Not Getting Enough Sleep? Here Are 8 Problems You Could Be Facing


Most people want to get a good night sleep, since it leaves us feeling energetic, focused, and just better rested for the day ahead. And there is new and growing evidence that there’s good reason why we tend to feel this way. It’s because sleep is really vital for maintaining one’s long-term health as well.

According to researcher and professor of medicine at Penn Medicine in Philadelphia, Sigrid C. Veasey, MD, although the body has the ability to cope with staying up late on occasion, if you happen to be frequently or chronically sleep deprived, you will eventually have issues with your health later on.

Dr. Veasay explains that one of the strongest pieces of evidence is the fact that humans have not evolved to sleep less hours than man did thousands of years ago, despite no longer having to sleep outdoors or be in danger of being attacked by outside elements or animals like before. If sleep wasn’t as important, then people could theorize that humans would have already evolved to sleep less by now.

She said, “From an evolutionary perspective, that indicates sleep must be very important in some sense.”

As explained by neurologist and sleep medicine specialist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus, Meena Khan, MD, she shared that more often than not, not getting enough sleep, or having poor quality sleep, tends to be the result of our own doing, such as spending too much time on our phones or gadgets before bed, drinking too much alcohol or caffeine, or just not allotting enough time to get a proper night’s sleep. It may also be a result of particular health issues, like depression, chronic pain, undiagnosed sleep apnea, or possibly a side effect of a certain medication you may be taking.

However, she adds that no matter the reason behind your poor sleep, it’s just not good for the health.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society published a story back in June 2015 in Sleep, citing guidelines that adults should sleep at least seven or more hours every night to gain optimal health.

Here are some long-term health issues you may be facing or may be at risk of if you aren’t getting enough sleep:

  1. Type 2 Diabetes

According to Dr. Khan, poor quality sleep or short sleep duration has been associated to poor blood sugar control in those with or without diabetes. It can even increase one’s risk of developing diabetes too. In a recent study published in Diabetologia back in September 2020 found that insomnia could possibly increase the risk for type 2 diabetes by a whopping 17 percent.

  1. Weight Gain and Obesity

Laboratory research also suggests that when you don’t get enough sleep, it can lead to metabolic changes that are associated with obesity. In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) share that there are observational studies that take a look into the duration of sleep and the rates of obesity that have found a link between not getting enough regular sleep and rest and chronic metabolic disorder. This link is particularly strong in children.

There was also the Nurses’ Health Study which followed 68,183 women over 16 years, where those that slept an average of five hours or less per night had ‘a 15 percent higher risk of developing obesity’ as compared to those who slept at least five hours per night. The women that got less sleep were also ‘30 percent more likely to have gained 30 pounds over the course of the study’ as compared to those who slept longer than five hours a night.

  1. Depression and Anxiety

Dr. Khan said that there is research that shows how people with chronic insomnia have a higher rate of depression and anxiety as compared to those who haven’t been diagnosed with insomnia. Moreover, estimates suggest that 15 to 20 percent of people diagnosed with insomnia will end up developing major depression later on.

Experts also explain that the relationship between sleep and mood is complex and bidirectional, meaning that depression or anxiety can make sleep worse, while the lack of sleep can then negatively impact one’s mood as well. According to a February 2019 review in the Journal of Cellular and Molecular Medicine explained that insomnia is considered ‘an independent risk factor for developing depression in people of all ages.’

Sometimes, people require separate treatments to best deal with their sleep problems and anxiety and depression. However, in some cases where sleep is improved, so is mood. A meta-analysis of 23 studies that was released in the journal Depression and Anxiety back in August 2018 looked into the effects of insomnia treatment on depression and found that treating insomnia had a positive effect on one’s mood.

  1. Cognitive Problems, Alzheimer’s Disease, and Other Types of Dementia

Dr. Veasay shares about cognitive problems and such, saying “What we’re finding is that injury due to poor sleep or not enough sleep doesn’t show up immediately, but it can result in changes that later on in life look like Alzheimer’s disease and injury in the hippocampus and some of the other brain regions.” In addition, she said that the hippocampus is ‘one of the critical areas for learning and memory.’

A January 2019 study published in the journal, Translational Medicine, found that older folks how had comparatively less deep sleep than others had higher amounts of tau protein, something that is linked with the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

In following research that was published in Neurology journal in March 2020 found that this same effect was also found in the younger individuals as well. Additionally, there is evidence in an April 2018 study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that links sleep deprivation with an increased production of beta-amyloid – a protein linked to Alzheimer’s disease – just after one night of sleep deprivation.

Meanwhile, Veasey’s team found research in animal models, which was published in Journal of Neuroscience in November 2018, suggesting that the damage from a lack of sleep accumulates and is lasting, and it cannot be remedied from getting “extra” sleep or sleeping well for long periods of time afterwards.


  1. Hypertension, Heart Disease, and Stroke

In a checklist of modifiable factors that can improve heart health, the American Heart Association (AHA) has a list which they call “Life’s Essential 8” that’s published in Circulation journal. The same list includes exercise, diet, weight, cholesterol, blood sugar levels, tobacco use, and blood pressure.

According to the Heart Foundation, studies of large groups of people that have compared bad sleep and sleep issues with heart attacks and strokes show that poor sleep is linked to heart problems.

A June 2020 study published in PLoS Biology identified a probable mechanism that shows how bad sleep can be harmful to the heart. It showed that sleep fragmentation, which is repeated awakenings throughout the night that disrupts sleep is linked to a buildup of inflammation in the arteries, especially in the white blood cells called monocytes and neutrophils, leading to atherosclerosis, or the buildup of plaque on and inside the walls of arteries.

Khan also shares that there is evidence linking sleep disorders with heart problems. Issues such as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) tend to have a higher risk of hypertension, stroke, and heart attack.


  1. Impaired Immune Function

Khan also says that not getting enough quality sleep can ‘shortchange your immune system.’ She shares, “There is evidence that getting plenty of sleep can benefit your immune system and that impaired sleep is linked with being more susceptible to infections.”

A January 2017 study in Sleep took a look at blood samples from 11 pairs of twins, finding that the twin who slept less had a ‘depressed immune system’ as compared to their twin sibling that got enough sleep.

Another former study also found that individuals that slept for less than six hours per night were ‘far less likely to mount antibody responses to a standard three-dose hepatitis B vaccine,’ leaving them significantly more likely to be unprotected by the vaccine as compared to those that slept an average or at least seven or more hours of sleep a night.

Notably, there is also evidence that says the important functions of the immune system, such as growth and production of various immune cells, only happens during sleep.


  1. Kidney Problems

Although the link between kidney health, sleep, and other chronic conditions have not been completely established, explains Khan. She shares, “There have been a few preliminary studies, but the relationship needs to be further explored.”  But chronic insomnia has been associated with the development and progression of chronic kidney disease.


  1. A Less Healthy Gut

More and more these days, people are learning about gut health and just how important it is to one’s overall health. Gut microbiome, which is all the microorganisms found in one’s gastrointestinal gut, is made up of bacteria and fungi. A journal published in The BMJ explains that the more diverse one’s microbiome, the better it is for overall health. Lower amounts of bacteria has been seen in people with conditions like irritable bowel disease (IBS), psoriatic arthritis, obesity, and type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

There are even some studies that suggest how altered sleep, like what people who work at night experience, may have a huge impact on your gut health. Although Khan shares, “But that research is still in the beginning stages.”

Again, research published in PLoS One in October of 2019 looked into the microbiomes of 26 men, finding that total microbiome diversity is ‘positively correlated with increased sleep efficiency and total sleep time was negatively correlated with waking after sleep had started.’

The authors of the study concluded, “The diversity of the gut microbiome promotes better sleep.” In conclusion, better sleep also means better overall health.